Y esterday marked the opening of Baselworld, an event that can trace its roots back to 1917 as The Swiss Sample Fair at which watch and jewelry makers laid-out their latest wares on trestle tables.
At its peak in 2016, the show had grown to feature 1,500 exhibitors – and it remains the largest watch exhibition in the world, drawing crowds from around the globe.
The biggest of the big is, or course, Rolex which instantly increased the collectability of its previous black-and blue bezel GMT-Master II (dubbed 'The Batman') with the introduction of a £7,150 'tweaked' version featuring a Jubilee bracelet, a graduated Cerachrom bezel insert and the latest Calibre 3285 movement. Other Rolex launches included new versions of its Yacht-Master 42 and a bi-colour, steel and gold 'Rolesor' Sea-Dweller.
Rolex sister brand Tudor, meanwhile, pulled the wraps off an impressive selection of typically good-value pieces, including a new Black Bay Bronze with a slate grey 'diffusion' dial and a choice of leather or Jacquard straps. The launch of the £2,910 watch – which retains Tudor's in-house movement – marks the discontinuation of the original, black dial bronze model, likely upping values. The star of the Tudor stand was, however, the new Black Bay Chronograph (from £4,030) which sports a 'vintage' look enhanced by an ivory-coloured calendar wheel, red detailing and an optional 'bund' cuff-style leather strap.
Patek Philippe, meanwhile, caused excitement with its latest classic-looking chronograph. The £56,430 5172G features a 41mm, white gold case with a varnished blue dial, gold numerals, an automotive-style tachymeter scale – and a gorgeous, hand-wound movement.
Also on a motoring theme, Breitling continued it 17-year partnership with Bentley Motors with the introduction of a chronograph equipped with a burr elm dial based on the veneers used in the cars, and strengthened its connections with the road by announcing a new chronograph to cement its deal with the historic British motorcycle maker Norton.
Rival brand TAG Heuer also piqued the interest of driving watch fans with the unveiling of a new range of Autavia models, absent from the line-up since the 1980s. The original Heuer 'Autavia' of 1962 was so called because it was designed for use by AUTomobilists and AVIators – but the new, 42mm Isograph version offers the cutting-edge technology of an ultra shock-resistant, carbon composite hairspring at an affordable £2,900.
TAG stablemate Zenith also harked back to the past with a silver-cased version of its Pilot Type 20 that is inspired by the Zenith wor by pioneer aviator Lous Bleriot during his historic cross -channel flight of 1909. The £6,400 watch is worn on a calfskin strap based on the detailing of an aviator helmet.
Baselworld also gave Chanel the opportunity to further demonstrate its intention to be regarded as a purveyor of 'serious' horology with the launch of a new version if its 'BoyFriend' woman's watch in black ceramic with a skeletonised, hand-wound movement. Available in just 55 examples, it will cost €32,000. Currently, women's watches are rarely considered 'collectable' at auction, but that attitude could be about to change with the launch of independent maker MB&F's first model intended exclusively for females.
The Legacy Machine 'Flying T' (the 't' standing for 'tourbillon') features the Legacy lines characteristic domed crystal and a small, semi-upright dial positioned discreetly between six and eight o'clock, allowing birds-eye view of the fabulous tourbillon mechanism and hand-wound movement.
Speaking to Sotheby's about the watch, Busser confessed that, in the past, he had struggled to get excited about designing a women's model: "Recently, however, my mother died and it occurred to me that the family I now have – my wife and my two daughters – comprises entirely females. It seemed logical to make a Legacy watch that they could all wear and call their own. So we started designing the Flying T."
The watch is available in three styles, the most glamorous of which is a version fully set with baguette diamonds – and costing CHF 298,000 plus tax. Which, by anyone's standards, is quite an horological legacy...